It has not been a standard offseason for Wisconsin's newest assistant coach.
Head coach Paul Chryst needed to replace one member of his staff earlier this year after Ted Gilmore departed UW to become Michigan State's tight ends coach.
The turnaround for a new hire was relatively swift as the program announced the hiring of former Colorado State and Green Bay Packers wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted in early March. Before the team could set foot on the field for spring practices, however, they were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chryst admitted part of him felt bad for Whitted not being able to be around his players during his first offseason in Madison, but he also praised the former nine-year NFL vet turned coach and those student-athletes in his room.
"He's done a great job, and our players have done a great job of really making the most of these meetings," Chryst told reporters on Friday morning. "Certainly, they've talked football and a lot of football, but they've covered a lot of other ground as well.
"I think they've done a great job of building a foundation, and I say 'they' because I think it's Alvis and the players. We have four seniors that are are good leaders in that group with Danny (Davis) and 'KP' (Kendric Pryor) and 'Dunner' (Jack Dunn) and 'Krumm' (Adam Krumholz), and then we've got another group that they're young. I think that's where it sure would have been nice for Alvis to get a feel for them in spring ball. That's one of those things that didn't happen. But they do have a good foundation going in, and then we just got to make use of the time that we do get."
The position group will need to replace the production and big-play ability of Quintez Cephus. Last season, the Georgia native and 2020 NFL Draft selection of the Detroit Lions led the team in receptions (59), receiving yards (901) and touchdown catches (seven). His tendencies to make contested catches allowed him to become a deep threat in the passing game that kept defenses honest.
When asked what challenges does Whitted face with his position group, especially in replacing Cephus, Chryst also made sure to also point out A.J. Taylor. In 12 games during the 2019 season, the Kansas City native reeled in 23 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
Chryst believes both will be missed, but he also thinks Davis and Pryor have delivered big moments as well, "and now it's their opportunity to turn those into big seasons.
"For them, they've had the right approach," Chryst said. "They know this is their last shot at it and I've loved the way they've kind of gone about preparing for it, and I think the same could be said for 'Dunner' and 'Krumm.' What 'Krumm' did on special teams for our team, if he can take that over and do similar on offense, that would be a huge contribution to this team, right?
Chryst also believes that there are young players that have ability and talent, and he is interested in "who really does come out of it once we start practicing." He is looking at the next wide receivers up as well.
"Is it A.J. Abbott? Is it Taj (Mustapha)? Is it Stephan Bracey? Is it one of the freshmen?" Chryst said. "That'll be interesting because I think that it's far from knowing, heck, who even the travel roster is, right? Who is that next guy? We can say those four, they've played a significant role--I think all four of their roles would be different --and then who are the other two or three that put themselves in position to where they'll kind of define their role.
"That'll be the fun part of getting going."
More from Chryst on Particular Position Groups
Here are more highlights from reporters' chat with Chryst from Friday morning:
*On which position groups he had the most questions about, that he didn't receive an opportunity to evaluate during spring practices:
"I would say that it'd be kind of some of the next-ups at (wide) receiver, which we talked about. I'm not so sure, Jesse, that it's not the next-ups at outside linebacker. Those would be the first two."
*On his confidence level with the players potentially taking over at center?
"My confidence level in the players in that group, I feel confident with them. Do we need the time? Absolutely. Does there have to be development and growth? Absolutely.
"It's the same deal. I like the players at outside 'backer, I like the ones at receiver, but they're unknown. You brought it up. I mean who will be the starting center? We need to find out, right. So there's gonna be a lot of those as you progress through. I was talking about earlier when we were touching on the receivers, and then the next one that hit my mind is, 'Noah Burks did a nice job, who's that other outside 'backer?'
"But absolutely, who is our starting center right now? Couldn't answer it. We need camp. We need to find that out, but I like the group."